Appalachian Affinities: Political Roots


For those who live in the Appalachian culture, geography and heritage and are perplexed by the sharp, invisible blue versus red divide between close-lying areas as well as for those from outside who don’t at all know what to make of the politics of America’s southern mountain outback, I’d recommend this recent piece from Moderate Voice: Canvassing for Obama in Southern Appalachia excerpt below.

Appalachia is a land of contradictions. It’s a crossroads of peoples, and it’s an isolated pocket of cultural residue. It is a place and it is a mentality. Appalachia conjures up the most beautiful mountains and valleys, and the most environmentally denuded places in the country.

Its signature music – bluegrass – perfectly encapsulates these contradictions. The standard songs come from 19th century Tin Pan Alley standards, Gospel hymns, 17th century Scots-Irish reels, 1960s folk anthems and African American blues. The instruments – the Spanish guitar, the Hawaiian (by way of a Slovak manufacturer) Dobro, the Scottish-Irish-English fiddle, the Italian mandolin, the African banjo – all reflect the varied influences on a music most Americans think of as “traditional” – even if only 50 years old.

Appalachia is a land of contradictions. And so is its politics.

One can drive through Floyd County this week and see these divides in the yard posters, one community to the next; and if truth were known, those biases hark back to deep divide of the Civil War.

Forget, hell.

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Tuesday Shorts

House-cleaning here, some snippets in the to-blog folder I won’t get to at any level more than to pass along the link. I don’t seem to be able to quite catch up, but there’s an end in sight, slower days ahead–sometime in January during an ice storm, I think.

10 Most Fascinating Savants in the World Fascinating indeed. Each one of these unique people tell us something about how the mind works, could work, or changes in some cases for the better when it’s “broken” in some unusual way.

Coal and Civil Disobedience: the Dominion 11 “Wise County residents have been fighting Dominion’s plans since they were first announced 18 months ago. The new Dominion coal-fired power plant, if built would release 5.37 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere annually.”

Tidbit from SEJ: I think it was Amory Lovins (Rocky Mountain Institute) who told us that, if all the states operated as efficiently as the ten most electrically-efficient states, the nation could reduce its electricity needs by over 60 percent. That certainly does harm to the notion that we can’t get the electricity that the (see above) Wise County plant would produce in less harmful ways. Conservation profits the commons, other options–the profits go to pockets. Which group has the more powerful lobby in Richmond and DC, you reckon?

Hints to White Nose? Or Not? A new cold-adapted fungus has been found associated with–but not necessarily causing–White Nose Syndrome that is causing precipitous decline of some bat colonies in the northeast. If determined to be the cause, it would join the ranks of other newly-virulent or widely spread fungi wiping out our animals. The the class Amphibia is also being seriously harmed world wide by a fungal disease.

The Daily Climate: SEJ08 Award-Winning Reporting on Global Warming Edition. Does your party believe we should simply let market forces deal with global warming?

Earth on course for eco ‘crunch’ The planet is headed for an ecological “credit crunch”, according to a report issued by conservation groups. (BBC) The consensus among panelists and speakers at the SEJ conference (during the World Series) was that we don’t need a “base on balls. We need a home run. In this inning.” Remember that when you vote tomorrow.

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Cold Mountain: Home

This morning, more than ever, the hearth is the heart of home.

We were gone a week. Yesterday, we left Ann’s Subaru behind with our kids in Missouri, flew out of St. Louis, out of Chicago, out of Charlotte and into Roanoke on a clear, too-warm Saturday afternoon, comfortably surrounded by mountains–not the hills we’d left in the Show-Me State. Appalachian geology felt a Goldilocks just right.

We met the taxi at the curb, and for the first time–maybe ever–I was a passenger with no responsibilities but to observe all the way home. I remember noting on the dash that the temperature when we left the sunny airport was 71. When we pulled into the deep woods of Floyd County 45 minutes later, it was 49.

Remarkable how the world had aged since we left, its colors blanched toward but not quite brown. The whole world had lost weight, its bare bones showing in the forest. Seasons come shockingly quick when you don’t watch the changes day by day.

I had monitored our local weather from half a continent away, imagined the bite of high winds that had licked down into our valley and blown about a surprising number of things from under the shed as we discovered walking up the drive at dusk yesterday.

While we were away, temps had been in the upper 20s a few nights, but in balance I felt pretty sure the house would net a few degrees above daytime temperatures and remain safely above freezing overnight, what with the southern windows letting in a bit more sun energy than radiated back.

It was a chilly 53 in the house when we opened the door carrying a double armload of mail. We were otherwise unencumbered; our bags are stranded somewhere between Chicago and home.

Barely alive. That’s how the old place felt, neglected and inanimate for a full week and without life support.

It will take several days yet to rewarm the old-pine floors, walls and ceilings. By mid-week my oak desk will no longer be dead-cold to the touch.

The first hint of sun reveals the skyline of the east ridge. The wood stove on the hearth pulses flickers of orange flame through the glass door, living light reflected in my monitor. Life begins to knit back together, and everything–or at least enough for now–in its place and all is well.

The edifice at this address stirs slowly from a lonely, lifeless hibernation, movement from within once more. The soft incandescence of early morning economies within spills out the windows for no one to see but the deer grazing in the wet pasture, grasses just green now bent and butterscotch for the winter.

What has for days been only a house is once again a home. And if you’ll allow the cliché, there’s no place like it. (Click thumbnail for larger image.)

A Wendell Berry Dream: Obama Cabinet-Ready

We stood last night on the University of Missouri campus for several hours to see and hear a man I believe will be our next president.

I believe him to be a good man, and wise in ways I’ve not known a politician to be for some decades. I will vote for him.

But I don’t expect him to be all things to all people. I do expect him to chose for a cabinet those who can do the most good for the most people. A president’s advisors probably exert a greater sum total of change in a four year reign than the president himself. Bush was not a good man for the job, his advisors in effect were even worse.

That being as it may, I wondered what Mr. Obama would do with the land ethic and agrarian economic philosophies of a man I admire more than I admire the democratic nominee. I think Wendell Berry’s vision of what can be right about our country demonstrates true wisdom.

We need wisdom in government at all levels–down to the level of households and communities. I hope we will see our future economy based on soil and rootedness to place. I love to imagine Wendell Berry as Secretary of Stewardship in an Obama administration.

For those of who don’t know Wendell Berry, this recent opinion piece ( about the man’s intersection with contemporary American predicaments is well worth the read, from which the following excerpts

… to all appearances an old-time Democrat, his faithfulness to his iconoclastic vision makes him an uncomfortable presence among the mainstream left and has won him new admirers on the dissident right. He is a moralist hostile both to big government and big business. He is a Christian who can’t be understood apart from his deep religious conviction that humankind is under divine command to be good caretakers of creation – the land, its creatures and each other.


In the months and years to come, we all will have to learn the meaning of limits. Wendell Berry is no dour scold who preaches a joyless austerity. To the contrary, he tells us that what we truly seek in life is not comfort, but meaning – and that you don’t have to live a life of rigorous asceticism to find it. Rather, we only need to order our lives around the ancient idea that happiness depends on virtue – virtue lived in community. We can only be fulfilled by living within the bounds prescribed by our nature, and in fidelity not to our selfish desires but to the greater good of our families, friends and communities.

Virginia Forest Watch: 10 Yrs

Virginia Forest Watch, a group dedicated to maintaining and restoring the natural ecology and biodiversity of woodlands across Virginia through education and citizen participation, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.  The event will include:

No admission fee, donations welcome  Join us November 8, 6:30 pm, at Hollins University Chapel in Roanoke. More details…